704 Outdoors: Field to Freezer
Jun 01, 2016 08:30AM
By Jason Huddle
704 Outdoors: Field to Freezer
Hunting for meat to survive; it’s an integral part of man’s history. And even though some feel it’s no longer a necessity – it’s easy and convenient to stop at a grocery store to buy a package of ground beef – there is a new generation of hunters/fishermen heading to local woods and LAKES.
This particular segment of the population prefers a lifestyle of sustainable eating that is often passed down from one generation to the next. That’s the case of John MacPherson. By day, he’s a professional goldsmith at MacPherson’s Diamonds & Designs on Cabarrus Avenue in downtown Concord. There, he works with his father, Richard, a master jeweler.
“My father is originally from Peru,” MacPherson says. “He met some friends here and one essentially wanted to learn how to play soccer and my father wanted to learn how to hunt. He raised me and my sister outdoors – camping, hunting and fishing. On weekends and when we were out of school, we were tagging along with him. In my 20s, I started hunting religiously.”
Okay, some – myself included – don’t want to see an animal get shot, skinned and processed for human consumption. Yet, I still like to eat meat. By the same token, those in the farming and meat business can tell horror stories about the treatment of livestock that ends up in our local Meat Department, then on our kitchen tables. Food for thought…pun intended.
“In 2013, almost 14 million people participated in hunting in the United States,” according to statista.com. “In the U.S., hunting is generally regulated on a state-by-state basis but all protected-species hunters countrywide are required to hold a hunting license. There were 14.63 million paid hunting license holders in the U.S. in 2013.”
These individuals, besides putting food on the table, are helping to regulate overpopulation of species like deer.
According to nature.org, “North Carolina – and many other parts of the country – has a serious deer overpopulation issue. Unlike many other species whose population numbers are much lower than they were in pre-settlement North America, white-tailed deer populations are estimated to be above pre-settlement numbers. Their predators are gone. They can readily adapt to a wide range of habitats. They reproduce quickly.
“According to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, North Carolina’s deer population increased from 670,000 in 1984 to 1.35 million today. Too many deer munching in the forest hurts tree regeneration. It can also have a negative effect on other animals, destroying the plants that provide ground cover for some birds and small mammals.”
MacPherson is a hunter that is passionate about trying to control wild populations of deer, coyote and, most especially, wild hogs. (He points out that there are wild hogs 15 minutes from downtown Concord.) He also prides himself on being able to subsidize his family’s diet almost exclusively with the wild game he harvests. Yes, that’s the term he uses. Like a farmer harvests his vegetables, these hunters look at the game they bring home in the same way.
“What we eat is all-natural,” MacPherson says. “We’ll smoke pork shoulders, hams, but there’s no fat in the meat so we inject orange or pineapple juice, marinades, olive oil, seasonings, or use a rub. I have two big freezers.”
But what about the taste of wild game? “Meat that tastes gamey hasn’t been handled properly, it’s not fresh. You have a window of a few hours to trim off the fat or it will turn. A guy kills a nice buck, shows his buddies, takes some pictures, and the whole time they’re doing that the blood is coagulating and the fat is turning rancid,” MacPherson explains.
Just then his wife, Beth, owner of Shades of Blue Salon & Spa, located next door to the jewelry store, stops in and joins our conversation. “I don’t have to go to the grocery store,” she says. “We might buy a pack of chicken every once in a while, but when we have cookouts with friends and eat something like a cowburger, it’s greasy and makes my stomach upset.”
Wild game meat is so lean because the animals are not caged or penned. They’re on the move, so while the exterior of their bodies might have some fat, there’s little to none in the meat itself.
The USDA recommends that each of us consume five to seven ounces of protein every day. Using six ounces of protein in our equation totals 2,184 ounces or 136.5 pounds of protein annually. One 165-pound deer provides 58 pounds of edible yield; a 20-pound turkey yields 11 pounds; a 150-pound wild pig yields 90 pounds; and a three-pound rabbit yields one and a half pounds.
There are disagreements over whether it’s actually more cost-effective to hunt versus shop, but it’s often a matter of a personally satisfying, chosen lifestyle. Yes, there are start-up costs like buying a weapon, ammunition, fuel, gear, butchers’ fees if you don’t process your own meat, and a license.
There are various levels of hunting/fishing licenses in North Carolina, from residential hunting licenses, to combination hunting and inland fishing, to lifetime hunting licenses. For those interested in hunting, state hunter education requirements must be met. This is offered in-class or online through the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. Recreationallicenses.org provides more information.
But back to population regulation. MacPherson says that, in our region, wild hog numbers are the worst. “We can hunt hogs year-round and usually go hunting two to three times a week. Hogs and coyotes have a high reproduction rate and no natural predators. It’s up to us to keep them in check. We have to harvest a lot in a short period of time; it’s the only way to control the population. We have to kill 75 percent of a hog herd to maintain the same number of hogs.”
Hogs can carry diseases – E coli and bacteria that cause brucellosis among them – and they destroy agriculture and property as they eat, defecate and trample their way through farms and wildlife habitats. And unless you’re a farmer or a hunter, you’re not likely to realize the booming feral hog population or how much damage it does.
But what makes MacPherson’s story particularly interesting is that he started a blog about his hunts: how he harvested the animals, what equipment and products he used, and how he cleaned and cooked the game. Hunting product manufacturers took notice.
“I started receiving different products that I would review; I would get boxes daily,” MacPherson explains. “Then my wife bought me a little handycam and I would post videos on You Tube using the products I received, in the hunt. We created a You Tube channel and got sponsors who financed our trips and helped with expenses. We did well promoting their businesses, which solidified great relationships.”
As founder of 704 Outdoors, MacPherson was then approached by the Hunt Channel, a network on DISH. “They reached out for new shows at that time and asked for 13 episodes from us. I called a team meeting…some of the guys paced, some didn’t say a word,” MacPherson says, laughing. “We really just freaked because a show comes with financial responsibility: you have to buy airtime, maintain sponsors...
“We film the majority of the episodes in Cabarrus, Stanly, Richmond, Anson and Union counties. Season 3 is airing until the end of this month and we’re filming for season 4 now. A minimum of 13 episodes is needed; they air 13 originals and 13 re-runs. Our team of about eight is around all the time, and we have two or three visiting hunters.” The show airs on Sunday mornings at 8:00.
While MacPherson and his team share the game they harvest and get together socially for big cookouts, there are times when they have more than they need. “I basically start making phone calls with our team of guys to find people in need, find people to take it (the meat). On Monday, I harvested nine pigs, skinned them with a friend and gave out the meat. Two to three times a year we take military vets on a hunt. A couple of my buddies started hunting full-time with vets.
“We’ve worked with Anson County Partnership for Children. They auction the meat off and get the money. We’ve worked with Backpack Ministry’s food drive. Kids are given food in backpacks to take home over weekends and holidays.”
When asked about those who don’t agree with his hunting practices, MacPherson says, “There are people that are curious and others that are so passionate in their beliefs that they attack. People who are against hunting will never be for it. They don’t understand our conservation efforts. It’s respect for the land; we focus on what matters. The land can only sustain so much life. The people population gets bigger and animal habitats get smaller, resulting in disease and malnutrition.
“We’ve been blessed to be skilled as good hunters, to go out and be successful and help others as well as feed our own families. It keeps our freezers full. I could not do this alone; it’s a group effort. It’s also a constant cycle. You never stop, never give up. It’s great to have that many people support us, and we can make a difference.”
Article by: Kim Cassell
Photos Courtesy: Katie Whalen and 704 Outdoors